Should we have a woman President?

It’s Friday, again, and a perfect chance to write about the campaing for “India’s first woman president”. 

My first reaction to Pratibha Patil’s nomination was, of course, “Oh, wow! A woman President, finally!” And over the past few weeks, I’ve read quite a bit about her in the papers: all her faux pas, all the reasons why she should not be our next President. There’s even a blog campaign demanding she provide some answers to all the allegations against her: it starts “Not for President!”, and says “India demands answers first.”

But I want to go back a bit further, to the initial announcement of her nomination. The Congress wanting to capitalise on her being a woman, accusing the NDA of being anti-woman because it didn’t support her, and liberal voices going “So what if she’s a woman? That shouldn’t be a consideration in choosing her for President!”

And so very few voices saying “But it should!”

First, because it takes strength and courage and hard work and sacrifice for a woman to make it in politics**, and the fact that she got this far is testimonial to all of that. As Vidya Subrahmaniam pointed out:

even the bare facts impress: a practising lawyer before she joined politics, five consecutive terms as MLA, a clutch of portfolios in the Maharashtra Government, member of the 10th Lok Sabha, deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, and Governor of Rajasthan. All this topped by untrumpeted, constructive social work: engineering college for rural students, hostel for working women, development fund and cooperative bank for economically depressed women, schools for the poor and the disabled, and so on

Second, because having a woman president sends a message. Not the message that every Indian ‘respects women’, as the Congress would like to claim, but that collectively, as India, we don’t judge people by their gender alone.

Sounds like I’m contradicting myself? That’s because male privilege is mostly invisible. We don’t see our biases till we look for them, and so, the default men-as-public-leaders doesn’t seem to reek of discrimination. If we stop to think, we’d realise it can’t be ‘natural’ to have so few women in public life. So the ‘default’ is because of discrimination, because we are taught to value people according to their gender. Having a woman in the highest public office is a statement that we refuse to accept this default. That we see the discrimination in our society, and we appreciate and reward those who fight it.

Third, because the fact that she covers her head doesn’t stop her from speaking out against purdah. The office of President is a largely ceremonial one, that of the Government’s conscience, one might say. And a conscience that understands the difference between wearing a veil and requiring someone to wear it seems like a good start.

Pratibha Patil’s gender is one very good reason why she should become President; it shouldn’t be the only reason she doesn’t.  

**Yes, a lot more than it takes a man, do you even doubt it?


14 Responses

  1. Her gender is the last reason she shouldn’t be President. There are far more important reasons for that.

    Her gender, on the other hand, ought not to be the only reason she becomes President. And it does present a convenient cudgel with which to beat her detractors. In effect, her gender normalizes the sins of her past.

  2. BB: I think saying her gender ‘normalises’ her sins is insulting; do you mean it is being used to neutralise them? If you are saying that her gender shouldn’t be used to neutralise her sins, I agree. Neither should her sins neutralise Shekhawat’s.

    And you’re saying her gender is the last reason she shouldn’t be President…do you mean it isn’t a reason at all, or that being a woman does make her less qualified, somehow, for the job?

    As for her gender not being the only reason she should become President: of course. Not every woman is qualified to be President, and Pratibha Patil isn’t going to become President only because she’s a woman. My point was simply that when people say that her gender should have nothing to do with how we view her candidature, they’re wrong. Gender *is* important.

  3. I’m saying that her gender is *being* used to neutralize her sins. And that is what I object to. Where any criticism reduces to the “you’re against women’ argument.

    I’m also saying that that the reasons against her being the President have nothing to do with her gender.

    Well if your limited point was that “Gender *is* important”, I agree. It is. But that’s no reason to foist this candidate upon us.

  4. Well here gender is not really the key issue here, maybe the gender issue is hidden and hence they are using allegations to get her out of the running for the president. I fail to understand ‘feminism’ [this will be my excuse of not understanding your post].

    “default men-as-public-leaders doesn’t seem to reek of discrimination”. Then how would one counter, Sonia Ghandi leading the Congress and she is as some say the real power running the country, [de facto, is that the term?]. I dont know if many watched this, but when in the 2003-4 elections, when the Congress Party bagged the majority and it was set for Sonia Ghandi to be the PM in a shocking speech, she nominated Singh for the PM and i remember watching the live coverage of this, there were many MPs shouting against this and many [mostly men] came forward and repeatedly requested her to become the PM. As we now she decided against it and now has nominated Patil for the President, when Kalam was running a high public approval [at least by what the media said]. Congress was clearly not happy with Kalam’s many remarks on the Government’s policy. Either way, Patil’s running for the President’s post is good, but her gender shouldn’t be a factor, she is well qualified, though her husband’s past is being pulled out to ruin her image, Patil may finally become India’s first woman President.

  5. BB: That *was* the only point – that her gender is relevant, and to my mind, furnishes at least three solid reasons why she should become President. As for the rest of the allegations against her, I think we need answers which we aren’t going to get. On the other hand, I know I don’t want Bhairon Singh Shekhawat as President. Devil and the deep blue sea, what?

    A. Smith: Re Sonia – case of the exception proving the rule?

  6. Bhairon Singh? the word ‘ancient’ screams out itself in my mind whenever i hear/read his name. Kalam is much better candidate than the present VP. Kalam thought is old, seems to act young and does get my approval.

  7. @ erimentha

    Why don’t you want BSS as President? I’m not endorsing him as a candidate but I’m curious as to whether your opposition stems solely from the fact of his gender.

  8. A Smith: I really don’t like Kalam, so I thank God he’s not a candidate!

    BB: Oh, no. It’s because he’s a Hindu fundamentalist madman whom I wouldn’t trust even as far as I could throw him.

    I don’t think all opposition to Pratibha Patil stems from her gender, either. I do think the media’s focus on her wrongs (as opposed to Shekhawat’s or even Kalam’s) is a symptom of the misogyny that pervades it.

  9. And why don’t you ‘like’ Kalam?

    BSS is a Hindu fundamentalist? I did not know that. Link please?

    I don’t think any of the opposition stems from her gender. Then again, I haven’t had to suffer years of misogyny. I do believe that the focus is on the fact that she’s a less suitable candidate, gender notwithstanding. That may or may not be true.

  10. Kalam’s creepy and has funny hair.

    BSS is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and believes ‘appeasement of Muslims’ causes ‘Gujarat-like situations’. And that wasn’t written now, it was written when he was nominated for Vice-President.

    And do make a distinction between whatever wrongs are alleged against Patil and the way in which the media treats them! Vague allegations are reported as truth, there is minimal cross-checking of facts – it would be impossible to carry on such an unsubstantiated campaign against a male candidate. It’s as if the fact of her being a woman validates the allegations against her: how much independent reporting, let alone investigation, has gone into the anti-Pratibha campaign?

  11. Creepy? What sort of reason is that? Or is it just personal? But I like his hair!

    “…it would be impossible to carry on such an unsubstantiated campaign against a male candidate.”

    As unsubstantiated as said statement is?

  12. Oh, it’s completely personal. I said I didn’t like him. Like is personal. I’m glad you like his hair; I hope it brings you happiness and joy. And as for your last question, I almost went to the trouble of doing the research to substantiate it, but was too lazy. See Vidya Subramaniam in today’s Hindu, though. Also the issue of Outlook she’s referring to. Again, am too lazy to link. Sorry.

  13. Since I can’t find my copy of that date nor the links online, I shall have to take it at face value.

  14. Well, ur wish came true. And maybe some luck is being thrown in too, NDA wants Najma Heptulla as the vice-president and if NDA manages to get her to the post, then President, Vice-president and real power at the Lok sabha are all woman. Politics is empowering woman or is woman empowering politics?

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